The GW Community Plan Starts To Bite

September 26, 2019

It is now about three years since the Grandview Community Plan was bludgeoned through City Council by the pro-development Vision majority. For some while thereafter, it seemed to result in only minor effects on the ground.  However, below the surface, seismic events were building up a head of steam.

Almost immediately, realtors and developers had started to plan for their new future.  As I noted back in 2017, large numbers of Grandview properties were being offered — at hugely inflated prices –“for assembly” by developers. This had an undoubted effect on the house price inflation that has plagued Grandview until the market correction earlier this year.

Then the proposals started piling up. First, the outrageously incongruous Boffo Tower at Commercial & Adanac was approved, against broad community opposition, for 12 storeys. We have only been saved from that disaster by the developer’s refusal to proceed without even greater heights of absurdity, and the current softness of the luxury condo market.

This has been followed by projects on Grant Street, at First & Clark, at Nanaimo & Charles, on E. 11th Avenue, on East Hastings, at Lakeview Church, and at the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.

top left: Lakewood; top right Charles & Nanaimo; bottom left E. 11th; bottom right E. Hastings

Top left First & Clark; top right Boffo Tower; bottom left Grant Street; bottom right Safeway site

Do any of these look anything like the neighbourhood we know and love?

My concern is that the avalanche has barely begun.


TMH at Adanac and Commercial

March 4, 2019

It is almost a year since Boffo and the Kettle — after an extended and popular campaign by the No Tower Coalition — cancelled their plans to build a huge for-profit condo tower on city-owned land on Commercial Drive between Venables and Adanac. The campaign, of which I was a part, was covered in detail on this blog.

Since the cancellation announcement by the developers, various members of the Coalition have continued working quietly on this and other local issues. Now, the Coalition has formally proposed to the City that the site, currently an infrequently used car park, be used as the location for Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) for those in real need. It is, I believe, the perfect solution.  As the Coalition writes, there are many reasons to support the idea:

  • This would be a quick win for the City.
  • It is already City-owned property.
  • This would be using City land for a valid social purpose, not a for-profit development.
  • There is a need for housing for the hard-to-house in Grandview.
  • It would be entirely suitable for around 30 units of SRO-type housing, with a maximum of three storeys.
  • The community will likely not object to three storeys on that site. It’s not a tower!
  • The TMH proposal allows the City to retain control of the land and while providing essentially the same amount of social benefit that would have been achieved with the proposed Boffo/Kettle project.
  • The current council seems to be doing a pretty good job of distributing social housing and services equitably throughout the City. No one neighbourhood should be expected to take responsibility for more than its share.
  • This TMH proposal is the right scale for the community. A 30-unit TMH project would provide secure housing for those who currently need supportive housing in Grandview-Woodland but the project would not be so large that it would draw lots of people in need from other neighbourhoods.

The Coalition is asking its supporters to write to City Council in support of this idea (see the Coalition site for email addresses). I join in that request.


Why Can’t Boffo/Kettle Answer A Simple Question?

January 26, 2018

A senior member of the Kettle Boffo team that wants to build a massive over-sized tower on the corner of Venables and Commercial Drive loves to retweet on Twitter material regarding “affordable housing,” as if that is important to him. We also know that it is becoming difficult in Grandview to find affordable housing.

So, yesterday, I asked him (and copied to Boffo Properties) a simple question:

“How many of the Boffo condos on the Drive are planned to be affordable under CMHC definitions for median income Vancouver families with minimum legal down payment?”

All of the variables are easy to find:

  • CMHC (and most other) definitions of “affordable housing” consider 30% of gross income to be the maximum of affordable.
  • The latest Stats Can figure (2015) for median family income in Vancouver is $72,662. I’d be happy for them to use $75,000.
  • The minimum down payment in Canada is 5% for the first $500,000 and 10% for the balance above $500,000.

So far, there has been absolute silence from them. I wonder why that is? Could it be that none of the condos will be affordable to the average Vancouver family? If so, how is that helping the situation in Grandview?

If the Boffo Tower is designed for the global luxury market rather than to help house regular locals, that’s up to them, but let’s not have any of the partners suggest this has anything to do with affordability.

What I did get in return for my question was the typical nonsense from the build, build, build crowd. As usual they say that a $651,000 condo (now the median price in Vancouver) is more affordable than a $2 million single-family property. While that is technically true it still doesn’t make the condo genuinely affordable. This argument is exactly the same as telling a working family they should buy an Aston Martin rather than a Lamborghini when what they actually need is a Ford Escort.

 


What Is Happening With The Boffo Tower?

January 24, 2018

As I was out shopping this morning, I was reminded — by their own sign — that nothing is happening with the Kettle/Boffo Tower project that aims to ruin the stretch of Commercial Drive between Venables and Adanac.

 

It is now almost five years since Nancy Keogh of the Kettle begged and pleaded with City Council to exclude the Boffo Tower from the delays in the Grandview Woodland Community Plan, and it is more than 18 months since Councillor Andrea Reimer forced through an amendment — against the wishes of the Planning Department and thousands upon thousands of residents who had petitioned against a tower — to give Boffo the full twelve stories that they were demanding.  And nothing has happened.

If you visit their website, nothing has changed for well over a year. Absolute silence. No light shining on anything. This is not altogether surprising as they have been essentially silent (to the community) throughout the entire six year process. I am sure they have had a lot to say to Planning and politicians, but locals apparently don’t need to be informed.

They have also been talking among themselves. At least some of the delay is due to serious differences of opinion between the partners — or so we are told by City Planning.

As someone strenuously opposed to the building of a tower on that site (when excellent low-rise alternatives exist that can satisfy the Kettle’s needs), the longer the delay the better. However, there is one worrying issue.  We are told by Planning that the value assigned to the City land for Boffo’s Tower is fixed at the value when they first discussed the idea with the City, perhaps in 2012 or 2013. As we are all aware, land values have increased astronomically over the last five years. That means Boffo is being allowed to buy tax-payer’s property at far below current market value.

Every taxpayer in the City is therefore subsidising the private profit to be made by this developer. That’s a serious problem that needs to be fixed whenever they bother to apply for a development permit.

 

More information on the Boffo Tower disaster can be found on this blog and on the website of the No Tower Coalition.

 


Community Plan Update

November 9, 2017

On Monday evening I attended the GWAC meeting at which planner Andrew Pask gave a form of update on where we are with the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan implementation.  It was a well-attended meeting and not at all raucous as some may have expected.

It is worth pointing first that Pask introduced himself as “the former planner for Grandview”.  It was left unclear as to whether he has gone on to bigger and better things, and whether or not GW now no longer has a specific planner to talk to.

It was clear that Pask wanted to concentrate on how Planning is “saving” affordable rentals in the district. This is happening through the Pace of Change program under which only five applications for demolishing existing rentals will be accepted by Planning in the first three years after the Plan’s introduction (summer 2016 to summer 2019).. It was assumed that most of these would come from the RM zoned areas west of the Drive where the low-rise apartment buildings are concentrated.

Applications for this program to date include the assembly at 11th and Victoria (10 storeys, mixed condos/rentals), an assembly on Broadway just west of Commercial (10-storeys, mixed condos/rentals, public hearing spring 2018, and 825 Commercial (6 storeys with a pre-application open house tonight). Another possible contender for the Pace of Change program is a development assembly at 1535 Grant  where developers are seeking 6-storeys (an early open house is scheduled for 15th November at Lord Nelson School, I believe).

Pask had no idea what would happen to this program at the end of the three years. He said Planning would make recommendations to Council who would then make a decision. It was noted this would be after the next municipal election.

Pask also touched on the Safeway site, the Boffo Tower, St Francis school, and the Britannia Renewal:

As for the Safeway site, he reviewed the arguments for and against the plaza on site, including Safeway’s strong reluctance. No application has yet been made, so we await further developments.

On the Boffo Tower, he agreed that Boffo threatened to shut down the project this spring, and made sure we remembered Planning had approved only 9 storeys but they had been over-ruled by Vision’s Council majority who agreed 12. However, he did not mention the now well-known internal tension between Boffo and the Kettle. He did say they were anticipating a formal application — at last! — within the next couple of months. It is worth noting that I didn’t see (or recognize) a single Boffo or Kettle person at the meeting.

With regard to St. Francis, he noted that Planners had agreed with many residents’ concerns over the redevelopment on Semlin, and it seems the Church is now going back to re-study a redevelopment of the current school site on Victoria.

On the question of housing on the proposed redeveloped Britannia site, Pask made it clear that Planning had little to do with this project at this stage, as most of the land was held by School Board and Parks Board. He did make a case for putting housing on the site but noted any decision is still a long way off, and that no specific number of housing units was being targeted. There was also discussion about “air parcels” (i.e. building on top pf other buildings) and Pask agreed that Council had left “air parcels” undefined. There was also a question of whether the Renewal Committee was using up-to-date demographics as they seemed to be ignoring the growing seniors’ population.

Questions from the audience covered much of the same ground but also included additional concerns:

One resident asked why, if the viaducts were coming down and Venables was being closed, why the Boffo Tower was even considered given the tower residents would be adding traffic. Pask said there was no question of Venables being closed, merely “calmed”.

It was noted by several people that GW remains green-space deficient when compared to other districts in the City and that the Plan didn’t seem to help. Pask claimed the Plan included “extensions” and “improvements” to existing facilities but there were no details, He also made a case for “hard surface” public areas (plazas, closed roads, etc), but the audience clearly didn’t buy that.

The issue of developing the industrial lands was discussed briefly. Pask notes that Vancouver needed to protect the small existing industrial base and that the Plan called for gradual densification of those areas with taller buildings rather than change of use.

The move of St Paul’s hospital to Strathcona, and its effects on our neighbourhood, was raised as was the problem of AirBnB‘s effect on rental availability, but Pask didn’t have specific information to bring on those topics. The issue of planning permissions and how long they took and the massive expense was discussed. Pask said they were aware of the problems and hoped to do better in the future.

All in all it is good to have a planner come and talk about these issues but did we really learn much? I’m not sure we did and, in the end, it just feels like another faux attempt at “consultation and public awareness”.

 

 


Is The Boffo Tower A Dead Duck?

May 18, 2017

There were some strange goings on at the Grandview -Woodland Community Plan Open House at the WISE Hall last night. This was the second iteration of the duplex rezoning display presentation I wrote about on the weekend.

Several members of the public were advised by a City planner that Boffo had withdrawn from its Boffo-Kettle Tower project at Commercial & Venables/Adanac.  Andrew Pask the CoV planner directly in charge of the GW Community Plan seemed quite upset that his colleagues had “let the cat out of the bag” and claimed he knew nothing about it.

The Boffo-Kettle Tower is the massive for-profit tower project the neighbourhood has been actively opposing for almost five years, but which City Council — no surprise there — pushed through against the residents’ desires last summer (see here and here for the long battle fought).

The residents wanted a height of no more than 4 stories on the site, to match the neighbourhood and the current zoning along Commercial Drive, but the developers claimed they needed 12 stories to make sure they received an unhealthy level of profit. In the final months of discussion, City Planning suggested 9 stories but, at the Council meeting to approve the project, Boffo’s allies in Vision pushed through an amendment re-establishing the 12-stories. The opposition to the tower, using the developer’s own words from public meetings, suggested the final building would be 15 to 20 stories high. No, said the developer; the opposition is just lying.

Now, we presume, the developers tried a bait and switch, pushing for 15 to 20 stories once again, and City Planning pushed right back, well aware of the local fury this would create in Grandview in the run up to the 2018 municipal elections.

Maybe it is all rumour and conjecture; but it will certainly please thousands of residents if it turns out to be true.


Lies My Developer Told Me

July 29, 2016

Throughout the long — 4-5 years — debate over the Boffo/Kettle tower, the developer and its lackeys claimed that they had frequently asked the City and the Province for money for their required expansion on Commercial and that the governments had said there was no money for mental health housing.

This same myth — for such it is — was peddled by the Kettle and its developer patrons even as late as this month in the run-up to the Council’s debate on the Grandview Community Plan.  Developer Daniel Boffo claimed: “the Kettle has been looking at options for government funding for over a decade with no progress and no results.”  I am being polite calling that a myth, of course, because that is simply one big lie.

In the last decade, the Kettle has applied for and received government funding for mental health housing units at Taylor Manor; they have built, with government money, their new facility on Burrard Street; and yet more government money has gone into a new facility for the Kettle at 1700 Kingsway.  In other words, the only Kettle project in the last decade that has not received government money is the expansion on Commercial — and the reason for that is quite obvious.

Once the Kettle had snuggled into Boffo’s queen-sized they didn’t need the City’s financial help and so never asked for it.

Of course the City was happy to go along with this charade for a number of reasons:

1) they are a developer-financed and directed-Council;

2) the City Council has zero priority for mental health (or homelessness or affordable housing) except to blame everyone else for the lack of assistance. Their priorities lie elsewhere. Getting Boffo to take over the government’s responsibility was a win in every direction for them;

3) the City has for years wanted a major tower at Venables & Commercial (see discussions with planners back in 2011)l it was in fact the City who engineered the sordid marriage between Boffo and the Kettle in the first place.

This is a precedent-setting disaster in so many ways:  the tower at Commercial & Venables will be just the first of many to blight our neighbourhood over the next decade; the City will now advise NGOs to go looking for private money to do government work (destroying in its wake the very Canadian idea that health care for all is a tax-payer responsibility); years and years of planning and thinking can be overthrown by hastily written ideological amendments thrown into the heap at past the last-minute (this wasn’t the first time we had seen that); more than 4,000 residents expressing their opinion can be ignored at will.

Developers’ profits and crony politics win again — and Vancouver should be the sadder for it.